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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Airport Security To Begin Hand Swabbing

By Samantha Wilson, Washington Square News

Students flying home for spring break this year may face a different experience at airport security. In light of recent security disturbances, such as the attempted Christmas Day bombing, the Transportation Security Administration has once again increased security procedures at airports nationwide in hopes that such occurrences will not happen again.

In addition to the introduction of full body scanning, a relatively new security measure, TSA will implement hand swabbing, a technique that will determine if a passenger has leftover residue on their hands from explosives. Explosive Trace Detection will be conducted randomly, so not all passengers waiting in airport security will be tested.

Ann Davis, TSA's public affairs representative, said the new measure is nothing to be worried about. In fact, it is nothing new.

"[Hand-swabbing] is a form of technology that has always been done at checkpoints," Davis said. "It has been used for years to test the handles of luggage for traces of explosive residue. Now in airports it will be used to do the same for passengers."

In this process, individuals will be selected by officers in security checkpoint lines to complete the test. Their hands will be swabbed by the officer, and the samples run through a machine. In a matter of seconds, the presence of explosive residue will be detected.

TSA thinks ETD will not have a drastic effect on the already lengthy security process at most airports, if any. Because of the random nature of the selection, only a few individuals will be delayed.

Airports in the New York City area are ready to comply with TSA standards to ensure the safety of their customers, despite the potential buildup of passenger traffic it may cause.

"We'll have to see when it happens," an official from LaGuardia Airport said. "I think TSA will know better than [airports] will, but it's there to help."

There are still kinks to be worked out in the system, as several substances, including some heart medications and fertilizers, can cause false positives on the explosive detection machine.

"Of course false positives may occur, but they will be treated accordingly," Davis said. "Once someone tests positive for explosive residue, they will be taken away for further screening and we'll know then."

While the possibility of false positives and additional screening is inconvenient, it's viewed as necessary to help the security process.

College of Nursing sophomore Katelyn Hylbom is an avid traveler who does not see any problem with adjusting to further TSA security standards.

"People always complain about airport security, but it's there for our own safety," Hylbom said. "I wish there wasn't a need for it, but there is, and it's not that hard to deal with. It's 10 minutes of your life. I'd rather be inconvenienced than dead."

Hand swabbing at TSA checkpoints will start on a staggered schedule throughout the country. It is expected to be in place within the next few weeks at all airports.

Samantha Wilson is a staff writer.

How much more will we let them chip away at us before there's nothing left?

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